The Secret Of Us by Gracie Abrams album review by Sam Franzini for Northern Transmissions. The artist's new LP is out today via Interscope


The Secret Of Us

Gracie Abrams

Previously, Gracie Abrams had a consistency problem. Her debut album, last year’s Good Riddance, was full of twelve mostly-sleepy songs whose highlights were sparse and writing dragged down (especially with titles like “This is what the drugs are for”). Call it artistic growth, or the Taylor Swift effect, but The Secret Of Us, her sophomore record, is a much denser, complicated and entertaining listen; finally, there’s a secret worth telling.

Abrams was one of many openers for Swift’s Eras Tour last spring, and the two began a friendship that involved wine nights at Taylor’s apartment, listening to early demos of each other’s songs and accidentally almost setting her apartment on fire. Fire or not, it looks like the friendship worked out — not only is Abrams taking note of Swift’s within-song momentum, lyrical candor, and partnership with Aaron Dessner for some of her most legendary tracks, but the two have a song on The Secret Of Us. ‘us.’ is an explosive and scathing track detailing the lengths of a breakup, perfect for a Swift feature (and some of her more dramatic lines about “Babylon lovers hangin’ missed calls on the line”). The two work well, even though Swift’s vocals are quiet and careful, coming into her own advising Abrams on the line, “What seemed like fate, give it ten months and you’ll be past it.”

Abrams is only kind of past it. The Secret Of Us is an investigation and recollection of a relationship Abrams had, one that she was anxiously optimistic about, as evidenced by the momentous lead single “Risk,” where she seems to fall for someone without even having met him. On “Blowing Smoke,” she points fingers at boring women her ex (likely a famous movie star) dates instead of her. Taking clear direction from Swift’s now-pick-me anthem “You Belong With Me,” Abrams asks if his new, normal girl is intelligent enough to carry a conversation: “Like, are you even interested?” she asks. But there’s still a lingering regret, where Abrams feels as if she fits better — because of his star status, people won’t disagree with his pretentious books or movies. “They’re just blowing smoke / I’ll say what they won’t,” she insists.

Even though the relationship is dead, Abrams still makes time to describe the heat of the moment in its emotional, early stages. “Close To You,” the long-waited fan-favorite synth-pop highlight of the album that calls to mind Lorde’s Melodrama, details total surrender for a stranger. “I burn for you / And you don’t even know my name,” goes its best line. Similarly, the Abrams that starts “Let It Happen” is tough, in control, but once the relationship develops, she crumbles. Like the (perhaps) deluded fantasy of “Risk,” she’s all in on this person, without knowing if it’ll go anywhere: “I can tell I’m projecting half the time / I lack context so I’ve made up all these lies / It’s the only thing that helps me sleep at night.” At least the fantasy is recognized.

Abrams clearly graduated from the Taylor Swift School of Writing a Great Bridge where hers are filled with energy and cadence (“us.,” “Let It Happen,” “Blowin Smoke,” “Risk,” and the yelling in “I Love You, I’m Sorry” feels like it could be her), but The Secret Of Us loses some steam halfway through. The back half stumbles with the same problem that lingered in Good Riddance — a consistently sleepy set of songs that don’t necessitate a relisten. “I Knew It, I Knew You,” “Gave You I Gave You I” and “Good Luck Charlie” are bland, indie pop cuts that Aaron Dessner’s production can’t fix (and is uncharacteristically flat), and you can’t help feeling like there’s not much more to reveal. There’s a climax, at least, on “Free Now,” the album’s penultimate track (last, without bonuses), with the admission of the other partner’s disaffection.

The Secret Of Us is certainly an upgrade from Good Riddance, but Abrams still needs to balance the more energetic cuts with the ones attempting to be more revealing; you can have good lyrics amongst production, as evidenced by standouts “us.” “Risk,” “Close to You,” and “Blowing Smoke.” The Secret Of Us’ pop tracks are clear, entertaining standouts, but to upgrade to a bona fide singer-songwriter, Abrams needs to infuse something into her low-key moments so that people will want to pay attention.

Order The Secret of Us by Gracie Abrams HERE

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